Sunday, December 16, 2007

"I Am Legend," "Alvin & the Chipmunks," et al.

This weekend, "I Am Legend" and "Alvin & the Chipmunks" made a combined $120 million in the span of three days. Jesus. So here I am, with my belated short reviews on each, after everyone in the country has already gotten around to seeing both of them. Oh well, no matter. Here goes:

"I AM LEGEND" -- * * 1/2

When will Hollywood learn that Will Smith guiding his way through a dark, abandoned warehouse armed only with a flashlight is much, much scarier than having creatures pop out with decibel-shattering screeches every 30 seconds? Scenes like the former in "I Am Legend" are so well-directed and tense that it makes one disappointed at the shortfalls that ultimately cripple the film. Based on Richard Matheson's classic novel about the last man on earth, the film version is better than it has any right to be-- it's a completely watchable time waster-- but it guts the novel of all its fascinating complexity, darker themes and its superb ending; disappointingly, it ends up just being "Will Smith fights vampires and saves humanity." Despite Smith's near-heroic efforts (giving a thoroughly impressive, emotionally demanding performance in a film of this genre is virtually unheard of), his attempts to make "Legend" a thriller of substance are ultimately undercut by preachy pro-Christian messages, some truly awful creature effects, and an irritating propensity for "boo!" scares. The film (which runs under 90 minutes) is always entertaining, and the environmental special effects of a desolate New York City are astonishing/disturbing, but these highs-- paired with Smith's performance-- only serve as a frustrating tease of what potential there was here to do something special.


Jason Lee stars as songwriter Dave in "Alvin and the Chipmunks," the second stop (after "Underdog") on Lee's steadfast mission to be a part of the destruction of all things I once relished as a kid. What's next, Jason? Your starring in a shitty, claymation version of my childhood visits to my grandparents? All joking aside, "Alvin" may be crap, but it's still better than you might expect. While it's never once funny, often irritating, and panders so completely to its pre-school audience while indulging in repulsive scatological jokes, it's far from unbearable and is no more intelligence-insulting than, say, "The Kite Runner." Though it initially registers as the year's most annoying movie with its opening moments of the chipmunks singing Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," the presence of David Cross and Jane Lynch bump the proceedings up to just 'sorta bad,' and it's worth noting that the movie does have the restraint to wait until the 12-minute mark for its first fart joke. For someone who displays fairly skilled comedic chops on "My Name is Earl" and in Kevin Smith's films, Lee is terrible at broad, kiddie acting-- his beatific smiles while playing the piano for the chipmunks' singing are just embarrassing-- and I, for one, can't wait for him to return to raunchier fare. It's mind-blowing to me that something with effects this cheap-looking and a script this lazy can open to a $45 million weekend, but at least we now have "Alvin 2" to look forward to.

So, there ya go. To give a quick idea of what's to come in the next week, I should be getting up reviews of "P.S. I Love You," "Walk Hard," "The Kite Runner" and "Charlie Wilson's War;" and by Friday or Saturday, I should have seen pretty much any movie this year that matters at all, so with any luck, I should have my ten best of 2007 posted by Monday morning at the latest. And if anyone noticed that I didn't have an Oscar predictions update this month, that's because this race is just so fucking hard to read! I think I have a vague idea of what I think will be nominated, but gah... I'll try to get that up in the next few days.


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